By Sammie Frimpong
This could qualify as perhaps the most unusual write-up you would read, but it might also well be among the ones you have ever identified strongly with.
It is the story of this writer's childhood - likely yours as well- spent learning the ropes of the beautiful game in the most boyish of manners.
Growing up in Accra and bred in the days before the novelty of high-tech 3D football simulation video games, countersball was what got young Ghanaian lads' football fantasies and interests thriving. It didn't require much to start a game of countersball, did it? Nothing more than an even number of crown corks (the empty 'Milo' tin housing my personal stash of corks was my pride and best guarded secret), an even cemented/wooden surface, a spherical pebble/'beduru'/smoothly rounded piece of paper or aluminum foil for a ball, and two wide-eyed and eager pre-teens willing to strike their fingertips sore.
The 'goalkeepers' were usually the biggest on the 'pitch' - preferably the tops of jerry cans- flanked on either side by a 'guardsman' on the goal-line as an extra precaution, as if it were necessary. To replenish our stock of corks, little boys would crawl between tables at bars, after parties, and venues of other social functions. Instead of corks, the 'players' could be made of strips of paper weaved ingeniously into square-shaped figures which were somewhat easier on the fingers.
When the 'matches' were finally due, some strived to give it a realistic feel. On the playing surface, lines would be marked in white chalk as though on an actual football field, while the 'players' were kitted colorfully with pieces of decorated paper. Thanks to basic school lessons in Creative Art, we had just the materials -namely, paper, pencil, and a few colored pens- for the job. The 'jerseys' -on many an occasion I was on the receiving end of spankings from my father's dreaded leather belt for using my precious Note 1 exercise book leaves for such 'noble' purposes- would be wrapped tightly around the corks and designed uniformly, according to the real-life football team they were modeled after, with the players' names and numbers inscribed boldly as well.
Thus, well before EA Sports and Konami thrust into our hands the magic of the gamepad, we had formulated our own ways of controlling the 'Ronaldos', 'Beckhams' and 'Zidanes' of our era. On these little pitches we exacted revenge for unfavorable results suffered by the football clubs we supported in reality. The goalposts and nets were usually made of paper but, for those who had carpenters craving to indulge the delights of young boys as uncles and fathers, you could possess as close to the real thing as possible. Boy, we played these matches as though our whole lives depended on them! Reputations were dented and established, petty rivalries contested, along with the pride of being known as the neighbourhood's 'Area Champion'.
At the end of the day -all weary and dirty- we troop back home with our respective 'teams', sullen or boastful, depending on how one's countersball-playing fortunes went on the day.
Call it immature, absurd even, but for some of us, football's many realities struck us first through countersball.
Either that, or through 'Kasee'.
If countersball was for mere toddlers and considered by most parents as innocuous fun, Kasee was supposedly the acme of roguish behaviour or teenage rebelliousness and deemed the fare of older boys. In most communities, Kasee was frowned on like the plague; just how many neighborhoods wouldn't have been willing to set up vigilante committees to eliminate every one of those delightful table football machines around?
The widespread hostility stemmed mostly from the fact that the key to savouring a taste of these games was slotting in a few coins. For those who operated on schoolboys' budgets, the funds for these could only come from cutting expenses during lunch breaks and saving precious pesewas. Alternatively -and, mind, this option could land one in scalding hot waters if unsuccessful- the adventurous boy could pilfer from the coffers that fed him. Put simply, on the ratings of vices, Kasee ranked highly in society's books -perhaps only next to gambling and marijuana addiction. Still, that did not deter some of us from frequenting the sites.
Table football tables can vary in size, but a typical table is about 120 cm (4 ft) long and 61 cm (2 ft) wide. The table usually contains 8 rows of 'foos men', which are plastic, metal, wooden, or sometimes carbon-fibre figures mounted on horizontal metal bars. Each team of one or two human players controls four rows of 'foos men'. To begin the game, the ball is served through a hole at the side of the table (after a ball is slotted, of course), or simply placed by hand at the feet of a figure in the center of the table. The initial serving side is usually decided by a coin toss. Players attempt to use figures mounted on rotating bars to kick the ball into the opposing goal, and speed, along with precision is of the essence. Nothing beat the thrill of twisting and turning the handles of the Kasee machine back then, even at the risk of not being served an evening's meal or being grounded for a long time if caught at the pools by one's folks. To avoid the latter embarrassment, the more wary would have one eye on the game, and keep the other surveying the environs for any familiar faces that might be lurking. As with countersball, there rarely were any set durations for these games; the lengths were simply measured according to who would be the fastest to reach a predetermined number of goals. Occasionally, there would be wagers on these games, giving them a rather unpleasant gambling edge which most parents just wouldn't hear of.
These days, I hear 'Kasee' has been standardised, with a regulatory body -the International Table Soccer Federation- being set up which supervises the game and holds annual World Cups and other international championships. As of 2010, the ITSF had some 65 member countries, among whom Ghana is quite unsurprisingly counted. Why, there are even plans of getting the 'sport' incorporated in the International Olympic Committee's set of recognized disciplines! Lord knows just how many potential world 'Kasee' champions Ghana could have churned out had all these plans been rolled out in an earlier generation, most of whom are now probably ensconced in air-conditioned offices behind stacks of paperwork (and reading this, maybe?) while they could have earned fame and livelihood out of their childhood passion!
Er, yourself, perhaps?
Countersball and Kasee, among other games loosely based on association football, might now have been relegated to our distant pasts, the tales of which we might even feel embarrassed to relate to our children, many of whom would rather enjoy the lesser pleasures of PlayStation consoles anyway. In their own small ways, though, those are a significant part of this country's rich footballing heritage. But for those long-forgotten adventures, I -and probably you, too- might never have truly warmed into the sport we hold so dear today.
Long live Countersball!
Long live Kasee, and the like!